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These iOS games revitalize the adventure genre

by Phil Hornshaw

One game that topped many 2012 lists of all was Telltale Games’ Walking Dead: The Game, a free adventure title (with additional episodes available for purchase) based on Robert Kirkman’s graphic novel of the same name.

Walking Dead is a pretty intense game, although it’s not necessarily heavy on elements like gunfighting, melee combat or fleeing from the undead – though it does occasionally have those things. Instead, Walking Dead is geared much more toward storytelling. It follows Lee Everett, a man on his way to prison when the zombie apocalypse kicks into gear. He and a small group of survivors, most notably, a small girl named Clementine of whom Lee becomes protector.

Like Telltale Games’ other titles, Walking Dead is a member of the “adventure game” genre. Those are titles that put a heavy emphasis on story, and players interact through dialog and solving puzzles, not mashing buttons, shooting nameless bad guys, or jumping on platforms.

The intensity of Walking Dead comes from its great writing, although it’s definitely not a game for children. Like the comics on which it is based (although the game is pretty much unrelated to the graphic novel’s story), the game is filled with adult themes and horrific situations. No character is safe from being summarily executed because of a mistake that leads to a zombie attack, or an encounter with other characters that involves firearms. Walking Dead manages to make players care about all its characters, especially Clementine, its high-intensity situations are seriously affecting.

What sets Walking Dead apart?

Walking Dead’s greatest achievement is the way it allows players to invest themselves in the tale being told. As Lee, you’re primarily responsible for interacting with other characters through dialog, which means you’ll choose what Lee does or doesn’t say and do, for the most part. The game likes to put you in tough situations and ask for you to make hard decisions. You’ll often find yourself asked to pick which course of action you think is the right one, or to back one character over another. Sometimes these situations can result in someone’s death, and the game often will give you clues about meaningful decisions, noting things such as “Clementine will remember that.”

Adventure titles like Walking Dead have seen something of a resurgence lately, thanks to an expanding indie gaming market on PC, and their ability to translate exceedingly well to mobile devices. Walking Dead has set a bar in storytelling for a lot of games, but there are quite a few other quality adventure titles that also nail the feeling of exploration and puzzle-solving and storytelling for which the genre is known.

Serial killers instead of zombies

Adventure games are usually pretty strong storytelling engines, and because of that, they can often do some very interesting things in the horror genre. As Walking Dead manages to mix slow-burn, tough moments, other games opt for ramping up the tension slowly, as exemplified by several scenes in Bulkypix’s Yesterday.

Yesterday is the story of a serial killer plaguing New York’s homeless population, and it gets weird in a hurry. Like Walking Dead, it’s awash with lots of adult themes and violent acts, but it puts a greater emphasis on traditional adventure genre gameplay, making heavy use of involved puzzles. Players have to figure out how to move forward in order to continually unlock the story, and with its comic book style and feel, Yesterday manages to tell a pretty engrossing one.

Again, it’s not a game for kids, but if something a little darker and more thrilling is up your alley, it’s worth a shot.

A ‘broken’ blast from the past

Counted among some of the more solid adventure games in the genre are those bearing the Broken Sword title. A pair of the Broken Sword games – Broken Sword and Broken Sword II – found their ways out of the annals of gaming history to engage new players on mobile devices, despite having been first released in 1996 and 1997.

Where Walking Dead and Yesterday focus on horror and thriller themes, Broken Sword is something more of a mystery story. In the first game, players follow the exploits of American George Stobbart and French journalist Nicole Collard, who set out to solve a mystery that begins with a French politician being murdered by a costumed serial killer.

Broken Sword’s gameplay is much more of the “point and click” puzzle-solving variety than much of Walking Dead’s, but like the other titles, the games in the Broken Sword franchise manage to capture players’ attention with solid characters and deep, interesting stories.

There are plenty of other great adventure games in the iTunes App Store, with even more coming from the other platforms all the time. For players who like games that tell great stories, this is a genre to keep an eye on, especially after the huge success Telltale has seen with Walking Dead: The Game.